While wandering around a cemetary recently I was perplexed about a question. I looked at all the people buried there and, knowing I would be there one day, wondered about life (which is why I like to wander in cemetaries). I wondered about the ‘worth’ of life. By this, I mean what is it that makes a life worth living? When the day comes when I die what would be the thing that makes my life ‘something’ of meaning?
This, of course, is a familiar question, but I found that I took it from another angle. Normally, the tendency is to dwell on what makes life meaningful or have ‘worth’. We reflect on the qualities and traits that make life have meaning. I, on the other hand, found myself saying another statement which got onto some interesting things. I said this:
“Perhaps the problem is that we think our lives are too valuable.”
By this I mean that we have too much concern over our lives and make too much of a big deal about it. We place value in our lives that simply isn’t there. Perhaps our lives has little value, in actuality? Perhaps, we’ve deceived ourselves, making it seem as if our life is this great big thing when its actually not?
Look around, we are but specks in the world. Look at all the creatures – the bugs, the squirrels, etc. and the masses of people, millions of them . . . yet they will all die, and in a short time. What makes my life more valuable? What makes my life more ‘meaningful’ or have more ‘worth’ than a bug? We seem to put so much value on our life. In fact, we put so much meaning and ‘worth’ in our life that we kill ourselves trying to make it worth while. But, in reality, we are but specks . . . another life to be lived and died . . . of billions . . . trillions . . . zillionquadrillions . . . of things that lived since the beginning of time.
I say this not to devalue our lives but to put it more in perspective, to show us where we stand . . . we are but specks in creation.
It’s a humbling thought . . .
A person cannot be blamed for putting so much value in ones life though. The fact is that ones awareness of life is ones life, and ones awareness can only be taken from the perspective of ones self. This makes it so that we – our self and the self’s perception of the world – are the center of life, at least as we know it. As a result, it gives this illusion that life revolves around our reality and experience.
But, the key word here is ‘awareness’. It’s true that we are the center of our awareness but we are also IN existence. Do we not “stare” into existence, gazing into its reality and life and fact? Does not existence have power over us? Do we not follow what existence offers us? Though we are in existence, and a part of it, it is more than us. We are really only players in the great play of existence. Like a play at a theatre we are only a single performer playing a small part in a greater drama. Its evident that there is something more than us . . . existence.
This shows that there are actually two forms of awareness:
- Awareness of existence, that which is more than us.
- Awareness of our self, that which is the I-in-existence.
Though life is all perceived from the perspective of our self, practical experience shows us that there is something beyond our self, which we do not know . . . and will ever know. It creates in us a sense of knowing-that-we-cannot-know. This is the ‘mystery’ in life. It is ‘beyond’ us, and extends far more than we will ever know. This sense of ‘mystery’ permeates existence and surrounds us. It makes life ‘mysterious’.
These two forms of awareness, though they may seem contradictory, actually complement each other. It creates something like a big tug-of-war between the two. It seems, sometimes, as if one is trying to ‘win out’ over the other one but, in actuality, they both need the opposite to be relevent. This tug-of-war also creates an endless variety of reactions. It can create a great depth and dynamicness in life. It can create great conflict and dilemmas. It can create a great calm and peace. In many ways, the experience of life is the tug-of-war between these two forms of awareness: the self versus existence/mystery in what seems like an endless eternal struggle.
But, in the modern world, we seemed to of lost the quality of the mystery of life as a good thing, one that is beneficial to us. Because of this we have turned away of the awareness of existence-as-mystery and focused on the awareness of self. We have become too ‘self centered’. We no longer “stare” into existence and its mystery. We as if observe it from a distance, almost like it was a movie. This has made us overvalue ourselves and our value, forgetting the POWER and AUTHORITY of existence and its mystery, that it, reallly, is above us and comes before us. We have forgotten to live IN existence. In fact, unstead of living IN existence we now sit and worry about our lives and its value. In many respects, this perspective – the product of civilization – has moved us away from life and, in a way, moved us into the IMPOSSIBLE act of trying to find “worth” or meaning in life. Oftentimes, these are often nothing but an intellectual “idea” much like saying, “yup, this or that is what makes life valuable” like it was some sort of a scientific study or mathematical forumula.
From my experience, though, I have found that there is usually a great chasm between the “idea” of life and actual “living”. Oftentimes, having an “idea” of life only moves us away from life. But, at other times, it can accentuate life . . . it all depends on how you use the “idea”.
In many ways, the “worth”, “value”, or “meaning” in life is more a measure, I think, of how you use the “idea” than the actual idea itself. The “idea” is like a tool, such as a saw or hammer. You can use it haphazardly and without thought, in which you might get hurt, or you can use it with skill and produce something to be proud of. I’ve often compared the “idea” of life to a painting . . . a painting we must all paint . . . that goes on all our life. After all, isn’t an “idea” a creation, something we’ve made? In the end, our “idea” of “worth” is what we created.
Unfortunately, like any creation, an “idea” of “worth” takes a skill to create. Some people, frankly, are better at it than others. Over the years I’ve found that many people don’t have a good “idea” of life because of a lack of skill . . . or that they never developed it. This often makes them feel that life is a ‘waste’ or something like that. But it’s not because life is a ‘waste’ its just that they didn’t create a good enough “idea”. This has always stunned me as it shows that skill and ability have a lot to do with the creation of a good healthy “idea” of life. In other words, it doesn’t just come with trying to live a good life, or having good example, or being brought up with a religious background, or ‘trying to figure it out’, or learning some philosophy (though these are a good start). It shows that there are natural impairments in the perception of life. The fact is that there are many good people out there that will never develop a good “idea” of life due to lack of skill and ability . . .
Most people, though, who don’t have the skill will ‘follow’ those that do. This, in many ways, is the basis of religion and culture. By following customs, beliefs, etc. we as if ‘inherit’, at least to some extent, the wisdom of the “idea” created by others. For many people this is enough. This is part of the reason why culture and belief are so important as it offers us a good “idea” to follow that we could not otherwise create for ourselves. When we don’t have a culture or a belief we have nothing to follow or help us develop a good “idea”. This is part of the dilemma nowadays. The culture, nowadays, has been hacked to death. As a result, it doesn’t give much of an “idea” about life anymore. Many people are finding themselves ‘lost’, with no “idea” to follow or help them. As a result, there is a great sense of a loss of ‘worth’ or meaning in life. It’s not that life has no ‘worth’ or meaning but that we don’t have the “idea” to live it. In addition to that, as I mentioned above, the modern world has made it so that we are not living IN existence anymore. These are two qualities that make up the modern dilemma:
- Having no “idea” of life.
- That we do not live IN existence.
These create a vague lifestyle and, in a way, a ‘half lived’ life. Because life is so belittled it seems to have no substance making it so that we NEED to have ‘meaning’ in life (it’s interesing to point out that this need is generally not seen in older societies). It forces us to have to have a value, a ‘worth’ in life, which we have to seek and often with great effort. As a result, we tend to create all these fancy philosophies and points of views to justify life. When none of that works we feel that life is meaningless. This makes it so that we have two choices in the modern world when it comes to the ‘worth’ of life:
- ‘Intellectualism’. This refers to how we think we can “reason” life out.
- ‘Nihilism’. This refers to how there is no meaning in anything (nihil = nothing).
These are, frankly, not very good choices to make. In many ways, the former is an ‘attempt’ and the later is a ‘failed attempt’. Both, in my opinion, tend to lead a person away from the very thing they are seeking: life. This shows, at least as far as I’m concerned, how the modern “reality” is not life or human centered. That is to say, it’s another example that shows that the modern world, by its nature, has a dehumanizing quality . . . it leads us away from our humanity and from life . . . that’s the nature of the beast.
It shows that the question of ‘worth’ in life is a unique one in the modern world. Most certainly, the ‘worth’ of life is different in the modern world than in older societies. This is because the modern world places humanity in a different position. It places humanity, it seems to me, in an unnatural position, in a man-made artificial reality, of man-made creations and conceptions that are removed from the natural world. It places humanity at a distance from the natural world, no longer in, or even living in the natural world, anymore. But, since humanity is part of the natural world, deep down we are still in the natural world. As a result, one foot is in the modern man-made world and the other foot is in the natural world. It causes quite a dilemma . . . it plays havoc on the ‘worth’ of life . . . where does the ‘worth’ in life lie?